Groot ran, pushing the pains back to the recesses of his mind. The flashing lights, the stench of spilled chemicals unknown and screams of the strange people in the masks. The whirr of the drones, his bark split and cracked with each bullet. Beside him Gamora grunted on the upswing of her sword, striking a lab coated alien up the chest. He dodged as Drax wrestled with another one, crashing to the ground.
“This way!” Lylla cried, sliding under a fallen gurney. Groot’s eyes struggled to follow in the ever-changing lights.
“I am Groot,” he told Rocket. Rocket who was still Rocket. He had to be…but those eyes, when he bit Groot…those eyes were black, soulless. Groot shivered and held him tighter with determination. They turned the corner, Quill exchanged rounds with ten armored aliens, each armed in turn.
“Give us the rodent!” A female voice shouted, lunging forward. Groot struck out a vine and hit her in the side. Wincing, as she hit the floor. It was a crime to harm another living being according to the wisdom of the Groots. But since befriending Rocket, nay even before that, Groot had more or less come to terms with straying from the rulebook of his people. Lylla scurried down the corridor, halting at the broken smashed doors of the experimentation lab where they had first found Rocket.
“In here,” she beckoned, turning and leaping on the face of another scientists. Groot watched her bury her small claws into his face and cringed, vines caressing Rocket’s fur out of his own anxiety as the man screamed and tried to pry Lylla off.
“Groot!” Quill cried, gesturing to where the human was tugging at Lylla, beating his fists into her back as she remained latched to him. Groot’s feet were planted as firmly as they could be in the ground that was not soil. “Groot!” In his arms Rocket stirred, eyes large with fear, legs kicking. Drax rushed past, clobbering the man whom Lylla was scratching and together the Destroyer and Otter subdued him.
“You are a good fighter for such a small creature. I did not expect you to be so good in combat.” Lylla smiled despite her bruises as she ushered them into the room.
“It’s what I was born to do.” Rocket frantically clawed at Groot’s branches.
“I am Groot!” Groot tried to calm him, the raccoon did not heed. Instead Groot sprung vines involuntarily as Rocket hissed and snarled, mouth foaming. He jumped before the Flora colossus could catch him and clung to the white round light’s above.
“What do we do?” Quill shouted, trying to shut the door against the blasts of the drones.
“Hold him down!” Lylla demanded, Rocket snarled, ears pinned back against his head.
“Damnit,” Gamora cursed, throwing her own weight against the door beside Quill. The blasts echoed with shouts from the humans. Groot turned watching in eye bulging fear as the two furry animals scratched at each other. The otter winced as the raccoon scratched across her chest, drawing a line of red. She rolled, grabbing for a needle and twisted, jamming it into Rocket’s shoulder.
“I am Groot!” Groot ran over to Rocket who bared his teeth and stumbled, clattering to the metal table.
“I had to!” Lylla panted. Even sedated, Groot watched the uneven breathing of his best friends scratched up side. Groot watched in panic as the otter strapped Rocket down. “Hand me that knife,” Groot’s large eyes flashed to the long thin object lying on the floor. Red splashed across it.
“I am Groot?”
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” Lylla admitted, “but if we’re going to even have a chance at getting him back I need you to trust me.”
“Groot you better…” Quill poked his gun through the slit in the door and fired. “go quickly!” The Flora colossus gazed at the otter, reaching out and slowly touched a hand to her chest. She watched, breathing heavy and fast as if anticipating an attack. Groot looked in to her, seeing her pain…more similar to Rocket’s then even his own. Groot’s gaze wavered only when Rocket jolted on the table, his heart wrenching in two at his friend’s muffled hiss of pain.
“Quickly!” Lylla pleaded. Groot took a breath, gripping the knife and handing it to her. He hoped beyond all hope that he was doing the right thing. That Rocket could forgive him. Lylla took it from Groot and he turned away as she positioned it at the base of Rocket’s skull.
“There is too many of them!” Drax shouted as another blast poked a hole through the already banged up doors. All Groots perceived and experienced time differently than most mammalien based creatures; for him, Lylla’s deft work took an eternity. But after the initial cut, he turned back to watch. He needed to bear witness to that which pained his best friend the most. The cables, panels, gears and gadgets that made up the inside of Rocket’s body caused his soulmate agony, physically, mentally, emotionally every second of his existence and if Rocket could carry that pain with him then Groot knew the least he could do was see him through. Lylla connected wires, cut and examined, re-cut. All the while playing metal with muscle, pinning organic tissue to metal.
“Ahh!” Groot whirled around, Gamora held her side, still trying desperately to keep the door closed.
“You alright?” Quill shouted. The assassin grunted and pushed her back against the doors, sending the metal screeching. “Just…one…last connection…” Lylla meticulously fused the last two wires in Rocket’s back implant together and stitched him closed, skull and all.
“I am Groot?”
“If what you asked was ‘did it work’ then I’m not sure…” Groot felt his heart sink. There wasn’t time for ambiguity. “I followed all the correct steps from watching it….” She mused. “But…there was always that one factor the scientists could never replicate…a spark was needed. Not a mechanical spark, something unexplainable.” She pondered, “actual free will…the could create soliders and weapons that obeyed, sure. But Rocket and I…the others like us, we were created but the sentience itself was something they were never able to forge. It just happened. They called it the spark of life. They were trying to replicate it…but it only ever occurred randomly. For every creature like me and Rocket here, hundreds of others were killed or defected because the scientists couldn’t make them truly, truly, alive.” She turned to Groot.
“A soul. A soul can’t be made in a lab…I’ve put him back together but without his real sentience he’ll…. he’ll just be a monster.”
“I told you!” Drax shouted over the alarms, “we should honor his memory by roasting him over a great fire in a ceremonial feast!”
“We are not…” Quill fired through the doors again, narrowly missing a blast from one of the scientists on the other side, “eating Rocket!”
“What is the alternative?” The destroyer thrust his fist through the opening in the door and Groot recognized the familiar grunt and fall of the victim. “He would not want us to keep him as a pet!” As much as Groot was disgusted by the idea, he had to admit Drax had a point. The last thing Rocket would want would be to be kept as a pet. But what if….Groot looked down at his own chest. The spores. The lessons of his people vibrated through his vines, even here so far away from everything that was good and green. He gently reached out, placing his hand on Rocket’s chest, closing his eyes.
“What are you…?” Lylla watched in amazement as a glowing yellow light shown from under Groot’s palm. He consentraited. The power of the Groots was the power of life and growth. Back on Planet X it was told that they were sentinels of all natural things of the forest. Wood gods. In his youth, Groot had healed a squirrel that had succumb to a strange sickness, but bringing Rocket’s soul back….? He could only hope. Something hot flashed across the flora colossus’s bark. He winced, but remained fixed on Rocket.
“Groot hurry!” Gamora shouted. The alarms sounded off, red and white flashes. Groot closed his eyes. Feeling down, beneath the metal flooring, under the concrete until at last his roots felt earth. The energy ran upward, from the earth to his roots, through his heart.
“Groot!” Quill called, his dry voice cracking. “It’s now or never we need to GO!” With a final effort, Lylla watched the glowing yellow light grow larger and larger until it illuminated the strange tree creature and the raccoon. She waited, holding her breath.
“I am Groot!!!” Groot roared, the light raged, he grabbed Rocket. Lylla, Drax, Gamora and Quill braced themselves, only letting go of the doors and their weapons to shield themselves from the blinding light. It faded slowly and Groot did not even notice the fresh breeze of cool air. He did not hear the crinkling of debris or hear the absence of gunshots. He only looked at Rocket, revealing him from his protectively hold. His friend’s nose twitched.
“I am Groot…?” If he had a stomach it would be rolling in anxiety. Did it work? Could he try again? Exhaustion dripped from every vine. He reached a singe finger out, touching Rocket’s face gingerly. In amazement, Groot watched his friend’s eyes open a sliver, those familiar red orbs clouded but there. Rocket sniffed again, tail flipping.
“I am Groot!” Relief washed over him as he hugged his friend close. Rocket went stiff at first, but as the flora colossus spent his last effort growing a sprig of pink flowers, the raccoonoid gave in.
“Those kurtuckan scientists…” Rocket muttered, “I fought them…scratch their eyes out but…they strapped me down and….”
“I am Groot,” Groot pat him on the back and Rocket stepped back, eyes wondering.
“Woah…” the Flora colossus followed his gaze, gasped as he looked over the ruined lab. Around them rubble strewn as far as they could see. The Milano, and the trees and vegetation of the outside world shown on the horizon
“Rocket!” Gamora and the rest of the gang rushed over.
“We thought we lost you!” Quill said, sheathing his gun.
“Indeed! You were truly an animal,” Drax put in, beaming. “I wanted to give you the great honor of roasting you but they would not let me. I am glad that you are once again your true self.”
“Gee, thanks.” Rocket smirked.
“Your girl friend helped us a great deal.” Drax gestured to Lylla.
“What girl friend? I don’t have a…” Groot watched Rocket behold the otter creature. She herself looked as shocked as any of them.
“Lylla!” Rocket gaped, trying to think of what to say. Groot watched him settle for his usual brash: “…told you we’d escape together this time.” She rolled her eyes but grinned and without warning Rocket hugged her tightly. “I’m so sorry….but we’re…we’re free now. This time for good.” She allowed his embrace for a moment more before letting go.
“Should we uhh…go?” Peter suggested. “Before there are any other damn drones or mad scientists or anything else weird and freaky comes to get us?”
“Lylla,” Rocket smiled, “come with us!”
“I am Groot!” Groot agreed, from what he’d seen of the little otter, she was extremely capable, tenacious and even kind.
“A…are you sure?” Lylla wondered, looking between them all. Groot watched Quill nod.
“If your half the genius Rocket is, we’d be glad to have you.” Rocket chuckled,
“Oh don’t worry about that,” Lylla joked. “First few weeks in the lab he didn’t even know how to get his food dispenser to work. I had to talk him through it at least ten times.”
“You did not! It was nine times, and that kurtukan thing was complicated!” Groot laughed, and his grin widened as Rocket scurried up to his shoulders as they made their way to the ship, Peter and Gamora already hitting it off with Lylla.
“I am Groot?” Groot asked before they followed the others on to the ship.
“Yeah I’m alright,” Rocket sighed. “Thanks to you big guy. Don’t know what you did but I feel better than I have in a while. Groot grew a single pink flower from his palm, handing it to his friend. Rocket took it, for once.
the other day i was covering for one of our cashiers and a customer came through with a monster high doll. normally I’ll ask if the kid or whoever is a fan of whatever the person is purchasing and this person told me “yeah, she’s really into science and this one is sciencey, but i’m not too keen about the outfit”. i look at the box and nod and say “yeah, I don’t think open-toed heels are safe for a laboratory environment”. the customer just looked up at me with big eyes and whispered back “thank you for saying that”